After my time serving on staff at a local church came to an end, we took a two-year break from that church and attended another in town, somewhat renown for its children’s ministry and Bible teaching. The pastor at the time was an excellent speaker, and his oldest son, Benjamin, was in a Sunday School class with our oldest.
Flash forward more than a decade and we learned that Ben had been diagnosed with a form of leukemia. To say this seemed to hit close to home was more than an understatement. It seemed to me like only yesterday the kids were saving seats for their dads at a Sunday School Father’s Day party by crossing their legs over the empty chairs next to theirs. My wife heard about a Facebook group, Pray for Benjamin Elliott, and as new feeds came in, she would forward them to me by email. Praying for Ben became part of our nightly prayer routine as a family.
After it looked like Ben had triumphed over the disease, sadly he relapsed; and not longer after, the Facebook group was renamed, The Ben Ripple; mostly because it appeared that the stories which rippled out from Ben’s life and death were impacting so many lives both near and far. Ben’s mom, Lisa Elliott carefully crafted each post, and the thought did occur to me that someday, this material might benefit a greater readership, and sure enough, much of the material from those Facebook posts have been gathered together into a book of the same name, The Ben Ripple. (I suspect this will not be her last book.)
I asked my wife to take another look at those Facebook entries through the book, and share a few thoughts from a mother’s perspective.
The Ben Ripple is a challenging read. Walking through another person’s pain and loss, even in retrospect, takes some doing, especially having been one of the followers of the ‘real time’ Facebook updates, which comprised an honest, hopeful and wounded journaling from a woman of faith and intelligence whose life was suddenly shaken loose.
In this book, Elliott brings back those first raw outpourings, ties them together with some more objective reflections on what was happening in the family’s lives at the time and closes each chapter with practical suggestions for those dealing immediately with cancer, and for those on the periphery who just want to not say or do the wrong thing.
Her writing is both skilled and passionate, drawing the reader closer to understanding and empathy with a situation that most of us will never experience – the loss of a child – and one that more and more of us live through – fighting cancer. She takes time to explain the treatments, with their setbacks and successes, and to appreciate the medical professionals who were involved in her family’s lives.
All in all, it is important for us to know stories like Ben’s. The places where God meets us face to face, and the places where he stands quietly behind us. What the family next door might be going through and what they may deal with from one day to the next. It’s been said that we live in a world that has forgotten how to lament — to cry out to God our pain and fear and loss. This book is just such a thing, but like so many of the laments in Scripture, it ends on a note of “nevertheless…” The possibility of healing, the value of trusting, the necessity of faith in one who loves us.
The Ben Ripple is a remembered and continuing journey well worth walking.
The Ben Ripple is published in paperback by Word Alive Press and available through them in Canada and through Ingram and Spring Arbor in the U.S. A copy was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Graf-Martin, a Kitchener, Ontario based promotion and publicity agency which comes alongside Christian publishers to provide key titles with enhanced visibility.